Channel Islanders imprisoned in Brandenburg-Görden Prison
By Roderick Miller
John Ingrouille was the only Channel Islander to be imprisoned in Brandenburg-Görden Prison (Straf- und Sicherungsanstalt Brandenburg-Görden, Zuchthaus und Sicherungsanstalt Brandenburg-Görden, Justizvollzugsanstalt Brandenburg an der Havel), which is located in the Görden suburb of the city Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany. The prison was constructed, starting in 1927, according to the most ‘modern’ concepts of the time and was active by 1931. Brandenburg had its first political prisoners soon after the Nazi takeover in 1933. By the time the prison’s construction was completely finished in 1935, it had a capacity for 1,800 prisoners. The Nazis used the prison to incarcerate the politically and racially persecuted from Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe. It was one of the central prisons used by the Nazis to perform executions by guillotine.
John Ingrouille was arrested at age 20 on trumped-up charges of treason (Landesverrat) and theft in Guernsey in January 1941 and sentenced on 11 February 1941 to five years’ hard labour. In March 1941 he was deported to Caen Prison. On 6 August 1942, the sentence was revoked by a court decision in Berlin and the family was informed that the charges had been dropped, but he was not let out of custody.
I am not free as you thought; so that is why I do not come back home. But you can be sure that when I am set free, I will come back home. —John Ingouille, letter to his parents, 1942.
From 25 January 1943 he spent a week in Moabit Prison in Berlin. No additional charges had been brought against him and he had technically been pardoned, but his crime was altered to ‘aiding and abetting the enemy’ (Feindbegünstigung) by the time Ingrouille arrived in Brandenburg on 2 February 1943. He was assigned to perform forced labour in the tailor’s workshop, where around 250 prisoners were engaged in the production of uniforms for the German military.
‘Security detention’ prisoners like Ingrouille were given, upon arrival in Brandenburg, a black prison jacket with a 6 centimetre wide bright green diagonal armband. They were additionally given grey wool socks, a coarse facial towel, a cleaning cloth, a blue work jacket, work trousers with braces, laced leather shoes, striped trousers for general use, and a black round cap, which the prisoners called Krätzchen or ‘little scratchers’. The prisoners were allowed to bathe and do laundry twice per month. Each prisoner also had basic eating utensils, bed sheets, and wool blankets. Both the condition and number of items allotted the prisoners declined seriously as the war went on. Prisoners who arrived later in the war would often have to engage in illegal trading or bribery to get better fitting clothing or additional articles.
Brandenburg was an exceedingly clean prison with good central heating, according to eyewitness testimonials, although the guards ruled with an ‘iron discipline’. Flea, lice, and bedbug infestations were practically nonexistent, in stark contrast to most of the continental prisons at the time. The cells did not, however, have toilet facilities in each cell, and witnesses recorded instance of the guards having tortured prisoners by limiting their visits to the toilets, betting amongst themselves on the speed of the toilet visitations. Prisoners who took too long were punished with physical abuse and withholding of food rations.
Non-German prisoners were separated from German prisoners, received smaller rations, and suffered under worse living conditions. By 1942, approximately half of the prisoners were non-German, the largest groups consisting of French, Belgian and Czech prisoners. Although German and non-German prisoners were not supposed to mingle, it was nearly impossible to keep them from doing so during their shifts performing forced labour.
Prisoners in Brandenburg began to increasingly suffer from malnutrition due to ever decreasing food rations as the end of the war approached. By 1944, a typical day’s ration consisted of 300 grammes of bread and three-quarters of a litre of ‘watery soup’. As the war went on, the cells began to be overcrowded, with up to four prisoners in rooms designed for a single person, and this overcrowding among prisoners already weakened by malnutrition eventually led to the spread of infectious diseases. A barracks was built in 1942 to quarantine those infected by tuberculosis (TB), with a separate section for non-German prisoners. Prisoners with TB from throughout the German Reich and occupied territories were sent to the Brandenburg TB barracks, where 122 of them died between April 1944 and the 1945 liberation.
A criminal prisoner functionary, named only as ‘Robert Hos.’ in the court records, was in charge of the TB barracks in Brandenburg. He regularly placed particularly ill prisoners into an unheated adjoining the barracks and mistreated ill prisoners, particularly focusing his brutality on political prisoners, in many cases to the point that they died within a day or two. Knowing that political prisoners were often freed after liberation, he forged documents making himself out to be a political prisoner, although in reality he had a number of convictions for criminal fraud. He also forged documents for a number of other criminal prisoner friends so that they were able to leave the prison under false circumstances. ‘Robert Hos.’ was convicted in a Brandenburg state court in 1947 to crimes against humanity and given a prison sentence of 7 years. It is unknown what direct or indirect role he may have played in the fate of John Ingrouille.
Brandenburg-Görden Prison was liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 April 1945. The Nazis had executed 2,743 prisoners there and a further 652 died in the prison hospital. The director of the prison at the time of liberation was Herbert Richard Thümmler, who fled west just prior to the arrival of Russian troops and was interned by the British until August 1947. Charges were brought against him in 1952 in East Germany, but the prosecutor’s office in Baden in West Germany, where Thümmler resided, refused to bring him to trial. Many other guards and administrators ended up in Soviet captivity and died in special NKVD camps, and others were sentenced in trials in East Germany.
The last letter that John Ingouille’s parents received from him was in October 1944. He survived to experience the liberation of Brandenburg Prison, but never made it back home. John Ingrouille died of tuberculosis and meningitis in a British-run hospital in Belgium on 13 June 1945. He was 25 years old and had spent most of his adult life in Nazi captivity. According to journalist Cal Mcrystal, and known locally in Guernsey since the Occupation, Ingrouille was falsely denounced by Nelly Brewster and her daughter Frances Louise Brewster, in an apparent effort to curry favor with the Germans. The two women left Guernsey for England soon after the end of the war and were never brought to justice for their role in his death.
Brandenburg Prison is still active and was renovated in 2007. There is a memorial inside the prison that may be visited free of charge, but visits must be arranged in advance for prison security reasons. For details see the memorial site and send an email here for an appointment.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Pasquale, Sylvia de: Zwischen Resozialisierung und “Ausmerze”. Strafvollzug in Brandenburg an der Havel (1920-1945). Forschungsbeiträge und Materialien der Stiftung Brandenburgische Gedenkstätten, Band 8, Metropol Verlag, Berlin 2013 (in German).
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.
Rüter, Prof. Dr. C. F. (editor): DDR-Justiz und NS-Verbrechen. Sammlung ostdeutscher Strafurteile wegen nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen, Volume XII, K.G. Saur Verlag, Munich 2008. ‘Strafsache gegen Robert Hos., 24.11.1899 in Berlin’, pp. 399-402 (in German).
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1373 (Gaudion)
Wiener Library, London: International Tracing Service Archives, documents relating to John Henry Ingrouille.